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Eddie Kearse

Ballplayers Wounded in Combat

 

Date and Place of Birth: February 23, 1916 San Francisco, CA
Date and Place of Death:    July 15, 1968 Eureka, CA
Baseball Experience: Major League
Position: Catcher
Rank: Sergeant
Military Unit: Company C, 125th Armored Engineer Battalion,  14th Armored Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

“Three years ago a doctor told me Eddie Kearse would never play ball again. In fact, the doc intimated Eddie’s condition was so serious the kid might never get out of bed. And look at him, will you! Hitting that ball and moving around as though he never had an injury or an ailment.”
New York Yankees’ scout, Joe Devine, in March 1947


Edward P. “Eddie” Kearse was born in San Francisco, California, on February 23, 1916. He was signed by the New York Yankees and his minor league career began with the Rogers Lions of the Class D Arkansas-Missouri League in 1936, appearing in 87 games and batting .257. In 1937 he played with the Joplin Miners of the Class C Western Association (in 104 games he hit .248) and spent 1938 with the Wenatchee Chiefs of the Class B Western International League, where he hit .319 in 103 games. Kearse joined the Fort Worth Cats of the Class A1 Texas League in 1939 (he hit .277 in 88 games) and was with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League in 1940, where he batted .302 in 86 games. In 1941, he was with the Kansas City Blues of the Class AA American Association - one step away from the major leagues - and batted .239 in 69 games.

Kearse, 26, began the 1942 season with Kansas City, but by early June, the New York Yankees' catchers - Bill Dickey and Buddy Rosar - were both out of action and Kearse received his big league call-up. He made his debut behind the plate in a game against the Tigers on June 11, handling Lefty Gomez for the third inning before the game was halted due to rain. His official debut took place on June 13, against the St. Louis Browns and he appeared in 11 games before the Yankees acquired 15-year big league veteran Rollie Hemsley. Kearse spent the rest of the season with the Seattle Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League.

On December 7, 1942, Kearse joined the Army. He served at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, where he was behind the plate for Warren Spahn on the 1850th Service Unit baseball team before going overseas in 1944. Kearse served as a sergeant with the 125th Armored Engineer Battalion, 14th Armored Division. They landed along the coast of Southern France in August of 1944, and advanced up the Rhone Valley in pursuit of the German 19th Army. Sergeant Kearse was seriously wounded during a mortar barrage in France on November 22, 1944. He underwent several operations that left appalling scars on his back and shoulders. But he was determined to play baseball again and against all odds he did so.

On June 18, 1945, Kearse joined the Oakland Oaks as a back-up catcher to Billy Raimondi. In 43 games he batted .226. The combat veteran was given the night off on August 14, to celebrate the end of the war, and on October 21, he was selected to play in the annual Majors versus Minors game at Oakland. In 1946, Kearse played 73 games with the Oaks and batted .273. The following season he appeared in 58 games producing a .252 average.

“You know what got Eddie back into baseball?” Yankees’ scout, Joe Devine, told the Oakland Tribune in 1947, “Sheer courage, that’s what. He wanted to play and he made himself well in spite of any predictions made by a smart doctor. What a guy!”

There is little doubt that Kearse had incredible will and determination, in addition to being a tough competitor. “I remember one day,” recalled Oaks’ owner, Vince Devincenzi in the same Tribune article, “when he went after a foul ball and his right hand was practically split open when he misjudged the catch. Did Eddie ask to be taken out of the game? He did not. We held up the contest until the hand had been taped and Eddie went the distance.”

Kearse joined the Cost League's San Diego Padres in 1947, and became player-manager with the Ventura Yankees of the Class C California League in 1948. The following year he was player-manager at Paducah and Grand Forks, before retiring from the professional game. However, he was still playing ball with Eureka VFW in 1954, and played semi-pro baseball in 1958 with the Humboldt Crabs at the age of 42.

Eddie Kearse lived the last 17 years of his life in Eureka, California, with his wife, Helena, and worked in the plywood industry for Mutual Plywood in Fairhaven, California. They had three children Edward, Claudia and Kathleen. Kearse passed away on July 15, 1968. He was just 52 years old.

“Humboldt County lost one of its most prominent,” wrote Don Terbush in the Eureka Times on July 18, 1968. “He was understandably proud of his days with the Yankees but chose, instead, to discuss baseball in general rather than his personal career. He was an avid fan of the game from the Midget to the Major League level. He was never too busy to lend a helping hand to the budding player and to the local baseball programs as a whole.

“Only last summer Ed donated an oversized baseball bat which had been presented to him during his playing days in New York to the Eureka Midget League. It is to be awarded annually to the city champion.

“He was a friend indeed to the national pastime and to the multitudes associated with it.”

Eddie Kearse is buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, California.

Date Added December 20, 2017

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